BANGOR — Fifth grader Alexa Jarvis has spent a lot of time in the last year at the Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Clinic located in the Webber Building on the Eastern Maine Medical Center campus.
Last year Alexa said she started to complain about leg pain to her parents. Alexa is the goalie of her soccer team at the Mary Snow School and is an active girl. After a series of tests, Alexa was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor on her leg. Her osteosarcoma was removed by area surgeons. Now she is continuing her treatments and will get chemotherapy over the next year.
Currently she gets her treatments from the Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Clinic.
The clinic has four small exam and treatment rooms shared by multiple departments dealing with myriad medical conditions all afflicting children and young adults. While the decor is light and airy, the space is less than adequate for a busy program.
And in her words, it’s “boring.”
“There’s a playroom here,” Alexa’s mother Diane said. “But it’s small and you have to be careful, because this is a multi-specialty clinic. There are times where kids with cancer shouldn’t be here when there are kids with other illnesses.”
Alexa isn’t alone. Maine has one of the highest incident rates of cancer in the nation. But due to the Heroes, Hope and Healing Campaign, money is still being raised to complete a $3.4 million addition to EMMC’s CancerCare of Maine, at the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer. One million dollars of the funds raised will go into an endowment to pay for “critical positions” such as social workers, child life specialists, and research protocols.
In addition, J. Bradford Coffey, vice president for philanthropy at EMHS Foundation said, EMMC has two board certified pediatric oncologists, but the design of the Children’s Cancer and Treatment Center has space for four. “[EMMC] is pretty convinced that there will be a need to hire more.”
This addition, coined the Children’s Cancer and Treatment Center, will offer children with cancer and blood disorders a “warm and inviting” space to receive treatment. In addition, the center will also offer parents and relatives a space to relax and wait without worry about space or privacy.
“Currently [the children’s cancer and blood disorders clinic] is housed in shared space with other pediatric specialty programs,” Coffey said.
“The number one complaint at the current location is there is no privacy and no space for family members during treatment,” Coffey said. “The [Center] will have 8,000 square feet versus 1,000 square feet.”
In addition, patient families were frustrated by the amount of time spent waiting, Coffey said. Children would go to the Webber Building to have their blood tested and wait for authorization to proceed. Radiation would be done at CancerCare of Maine in Brewer, and chemotherapy treatments would be mixed in Brewer and transported to Bangor.
“Children would go from there to here, here to there,” Coffey said. For families already travelling three to four hours, the extra time saved makes a difference, Coffey said.
That’s something Alexa’s father, Dr. James Jarvis, agrees with. As the father of a child with cancer and a doctor and surgeon at EMMC, he has a unique perspective on the new center. And he’s “excited” by the possibilities.
“The new center will give providers the ability to treat more kids and they won’t be constrained by space,” Jarvis said. “Some of our patients drive three, four or five hours to get [to EMMC] and to be able to prevent them from having to drive to Boston, that’s important. If we didn’t have this facility, we’d have to travel. Getting her treatment [locally] keeps Alexa from missing school.”
The design of the children’s center was inclusive. Parents and older children contributed ideas for the design of the facility.
Some of the features include:
• A playhouse centered around an indoor “treehouse.” Parents can watch from a comfortable waiting area.
• A treatment area specifically for teenagers.
• Private treatment rooms.
• Waiting spaces designed for keeping children entertained with games, videos, and study spaces.
• Kitchen and nutrition area for onsite meals and snacks.
• Landscaped grounds with walking paths and benches.
• The ability for children undergoing treatment to see their physician, receive their treatment, and also receive support services in one place.
“Sick kids are still kids,” said Amy Baker, child life specialist, in promotional materials provided by EMHS Foundation. “Their needs are different than adults. They need a place of their own to play and relax, even when they are getting treatment. The new Children’s Cancer and Treatment Center will provide that.”
Funds are still being raised through grassroots methods. Coffey said that people of all ages are raising money for the clinic. Funding is coming not just from large donors, but from youths like Luke Martin, Riley Martin and Zoe Noyes who raised more than $1,020 for the clinic by organizing a walk involving 15 people and 30 sponsors. It’s coming from philanthropists like Leon Haskell of Greenbush and Anita Peavey Haskell of Milford and Greenbush, who donated $1 million in memory of their son, Raish, who died of cancer at age 4 in 1977.
It is in Raish’s honor that the center will be named the Raish Peavey Haskell Children’s Cancer Treatment Center. It will be opened on Dec. 17.
And for children like Alexa, this expanded and enhanced cancer treatment center will provide comfort and caring during a time when it’s needed most.
To donate to the campaign, visit www.hhh.emmc.org or contact EMMC Charities at 973-7000.